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Write a critical review of Andre Breton's 'Nadja' (1928) and how it sheds light on his vision of surrealism, woman and the city of Paris.

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Introduction

Write a critical review of Andre Breton's 'Nadja' (1928) and how it sheds light on his vision of surrealism, woman and the city of Paris. Effective literary criticism usually requires an understanding of the particular genre under consideration. Immediately Breton's Nadja confronts and confuses: 'The first thing is, this is not a novel. The second: it's not strictly factual either.'1 Lacking the literary 'automatism' of Champs des magn�tiques, the prose poetry of Baudelaire, or the narrative description of Emile Zola, Nadja defies categorization. Faced with such uncertainty the critical reviewer is already on his guard. Surrealist followers add little to his confidence, asserting 'the reticence of critics and professors regarding this work, their palpable helplessness as they try, without success, to handle it with their usual methods of explication and analysis.'2 At the risk of further ridicule this critical review will advance a few tentative observations. Breton appears to have created his own rubric, substituting traditional narrative and description, with his own surrealist techniques for creating structure, imagery and myth. Understanding how Breton evokes his vision of surrealism, through the pages of Nadja, is the first step in analyzing this technique. Discussing this maelstrom of ideas, the inevitable focus is on the fulcrum around which the book turns, the psychotic figure of Nadja, Breton's woman and symbol, the embodiment of his 'surrealist aspiration'. Breton's 'account of what I have been permitted to experience in this domain'3 is played out against the tapestry of the Grand Boulevards, cafes and theatres of urban Paris. ...read more.

Middle

Ouen (an important source for 'symbolic' surrealist objects) a stallholder 'quite spontaneously' mentions the surrealists and Louis Aragon's Paysan de Paris. Benjamin Peret, Marcel Duchamp (in the context of his ability to 'play on words' (e.g. Rrose Selavy) - a technique much used by Breton) and Robert Desnos are all introduced into the narrative in this coincidental manner. Desnos with his automatic writing where 'he "dozes" but he writes, he talks'13 is for Breton the epitome of his surrealist credo (Plate 7., a photograph taken by Man Ray, even illustrates his self-induced hypnotic state), creating the dream-like state necessary to 'liberate' the unconscious mind. Reminding us of his predilection for urban strolling (Baudelaire's flane�r) Breton continues by describing his aimless wanderings that culminate in a clear reference to his future chance encounter with Nadja. Thereafter, until Nadja makes her appearance, Breton focuses on communicating to the reader the importance of Freudian analytical techniques, particularly his interpretation of dreams and its associated symbolism. His lengthy exposition of Blanche Derval's role in Les Detraqu�es, closely resembles Freud's description and analysis of dreams in his key work The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) - there is even a strong reference to a specific series of dreams where a 'dead child in a box' (in this case the cupboard) was a critical element. Such symbolism is also evident in Lisa Deharme's glove (the original sky-blue one and the bronze 'replica' presented to the Surrealiste Centrale). ...read more.

Conclusion

Connecting these disparate sites, which usually signify important points of juncture or significance in Breton's narrative, is the network of Grand Boulevards that are the lifeblood of the flane�r. As if seeking to enhance the 'clinical' authenticity of his experiences with Nadja Breton documents all these Parisian sites with extensive textual and photograph descriptions, providing a factual account at odds with the 'dream-like' emphasis of his fleeting relationship with Nadja. It is as if Breton is trying to anchor and thereby recall his 'ethereal' surrealist vision, with Nadja at its vortex, in a framework that is the physical fabric of the city of Paris. Polizzotti, a respected biographer of Andre Breton, maintains that Nadja 'with its blend of intimate confession and sense of the marvellous' is the 'quintessential Surrealist romance'. It certainly embodies the key notions of his surrealist vision but a love story or romance, it cannot be. Breton was a predatory male prowling the Grand Boulevards and back streets or alleyways of modern Paris. On the rebound from one relationship, his search for a chance s****l encounter with another woman culminated in his few short weeks with Nadja, a vunerable, psychotic, woman on the edge of madness. Projecting onto her his surrealist vision he was surely largely responsible for 'coaxing her incipient madness beyond the limit'22. When madness overcome her he quickly withdrew, moving on to the next relationship is his voyage of 'self-discovery'. What emerges from this analysis is a less than flattering autobiographical portrait of Breton, perhaps not quite the answer he sought when posing the question 'Who am I?'. ...read more.

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